With just one game remaining in the NHL regular season, the Vancouver Canucks will watch on having played their final contest on Friday night, knowing they missed the postseason. But the fact that the Canucks fought right up until the very end after starting the season 8-15-2, their season shouldn’t be viewed as a failure.
After Vancouver’s 5-2 victory over the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday night, they were officially eliminated from playoff contention due to the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators gaining points in their contests as well. Even with the Canucks out of the playoff picture, there is a multitude of positives to take away from this season. Whether it’s the new acquisitions that were brought in from the offseason until the trade deadline, the development and growth of the core group, or the culture turnover early on, there should be a lot of optimism heading into 2022-23.
Coaching Change and Culture
The first main reason why this season was as exciting as it was, and why it came down to the final week of the regular season had to do with the coaching change and culture. After their tough start, the Canucks cleaned house, relieving Jim Benning and Travis Green of their duties. From there, they brought on Jim Rutherford as the Canucks’ president of hockey operations, Bruce Boudreau as the new head coach, and Patrik Allvin as the new general manager, along with Emilie Castonguay and Cammi Granato as assistant general managers.
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Once the changes were set and in place, the Canucks took off. Under Boudreau, they went on to win their next seven games in a row, and go 9-0-1 over the first 10 games with him. At season’s end, they finished with a record of 32-16-10 under Boudreau, which was a points percentage (P%) of .637%. To put it into context, that would have put them just above the Edmonton Oilers, who have a P% of .634%, and finished second in the Pacific Division.
These are all hypotheticals, and who knows if the Canucks would have actually finished ahead of the Oilers if they played the full 82 games under Boudreau, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.
Growth From the Core Players
An organization always looks for its core group to take a leap forward and take strides toward leading the team in the future. While the Canucks failed to make the postseason after earning a spot in the bubble just a couple of years back, the growth from the core players should be an encouraging sign ahead of next year.
J.T. Miller is obviously the first player that comes to mind that took their game to the next level. He finished the season top-10 in scoring, with 32 goals and 67 assists for 99 points, all career highs. Bo Horvat hit the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career while being limited to 70 games due to injury. Elias Pettersson also reached the 30-goal mark and posted a career-high in points with 68. Quinn Hughes enjoyed his most productive season as well, collecting 68 points over 76 games while hitting 60 assists for the first time in his young career.
We also can’t forget about the goaltending, as Thatcher Demko enjoyed a breakout season of his own. He nearly doubled his career starts with 64 and set career marks in goals-against average (GAA), posting a 2.72, as well as tying his career-high in save percentage (SV%), with a .915 mark. Throw in Brock Boeser hitting the 20-goal plateau for the fourth time in his career, and it’s safe to say the benchmark players are all heading in the right direction.
New Acquisitions Fit In Well
Vancouver also make a few moves this past offseason that had major impacts on the outlook of this season. It started with a blockbuster deal with the Arizona Coyotes that sent forwards Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel along with the ninth overall selection in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft (which became Dylan Guenther), a second-round pick (2022), and a seventh-round selection in 2023 to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland. Next, they sent a third-round pick to the Dallas Stars for Jason Dickinson, who was set to be their third-line centre and provide some depth. They also signed defensemen Luke Schenn to a two-year contract worth $800,000 per year in his second trip with Vancouver, and at the trade deadline acquired Travis Dermott from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a third-round selection.
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While Garland failed to reach the 20-goal mark as he previously did in the 2019-20 season, he did set career-highs in assists with 33 and points with 52. He became a fan favourite for the relentlessness and energy he brought to the lineup, despite rumours swirling around the trade deadline. Ekman-Larsson has received his fair share of criticism over his last two years with the Coyotes but had a solid first season in Vancouver. He collected 29 points in 79 games to go with a plus-5 rating, which is a major step up from his minus-17 just a year ago. He also played an average of 22:19 minutes per night, to go along with 105 hits and 79 blocked shots.
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Dickinson didn’t finish with the point total he would have liked, collecting 11 points in 62 games, but stepped in largely when the Canucks were riddled with injuries throughout the year. He’s signed for two more seasons with an average annual value (AAV), of $3.5 million, and Vancouver knows he can be relied upon to fill in at any position when the team is in a pinch. Schenn concluded a very productive season with 17 points in 66 games while finishing with a plus-15 mark, the best of his career. Dermott skated in 17 games with Vancouver, collecting a goal and an assist, and will be a nice depth option who can play both the left and right side in the future.
Through all the ups and downs over an 82-game season, the Canucks can take a lot of positives from it. There will be some key areas to look at in the offseason, including re-signing Boeser. However, the core of this group should be back next year, and look to build off their second half and hopefully be in playoff contention a year from now.